‘American Idol’ Recap: Hollywood Week Part 1

American Idol Hollywood Week Season 11S11E8: It’s here! It’s here! Hollywood week is finally here! And what did we get for waiting oh-so patiently? A series of predictable “yeses,” a few shocking “nos” without explanation, and a big ol’ cliffhanger that only Idol would dare (and get away with). In case you’re a bit rusty since last season, Hollywood week works like so: half of the contestants perform the first day in groups of 10. They all sing a capella with no feedback (unless Jennifer just can’t help letting out a “beautiful, baby”), and immediately after, they’re told whether they’re in or out. That’s it.

“I realized the guy going before me was the guy Jennifer Lopez fell in love with.” –Heejun Han

First up are Johnny Keyser and Heejun Han. Both are strong singers, but as Idol points out so giddily, one’s super confident (Johnny) and one is really insecure (Heejun)! Isn’t this wacky? (Not so much.) Johnny sings “Dreamin’” by Amos Lee and this boy is golden. He’s cute and he’s got a voice like maple syrup – robust and sweet. Heejun isn’t quite to that level, but man, can he sing. He goes with “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” and by the time he finishes the song, he’s got his confidence back. And while we watch the contestants stand at attention while they wait for the judges to decide their fates, the awkwardness of this whole process is palpable. Luckily, they cut that short and the judges ask Heejun, Johnny and one other contestant we didn’t meet step forward and find out their fate. Of course, they both stay and despite how low his confidence is, Heejun is actually really likeable. Johnny’s lovable too, but that goes without saying.

Next, we get a bit of rapid-fire results as Elise Testone brings her smoky, raspy voice; blondie Bailey Brown delivers a sweet country drawl; and Hallie Day returns just as wonderfully as we remember her from her first audition. (In case you forgot, she was a sob story – one who almost committed suicide, but found new meaning in life.) These three ladies get the green light, but then it’s on to those getting the ax. As he explains the concept of being sent home, Ryan stands right by the waiting contestants whispering about how nervous they are as if they’re sloths in a jungle exhibit and he’s Nigel Thornberry. (I clearly watched more cartoons than Animal Planet, but you get my drift.) Luckily, we get a little buffer before the quick-paced exodus goes down. Jen Hirsche sings with strength and a saucy falcetto voice and Lauren Grey wows us yet again with her fantastic, bluesy, smoky voice. Both ladies get the go-ahead – even though Jen worried she was too fidgety.

The come the cast-offs. We quickly say goodbye to girls who can’t quite hit the high notes; Heather Youmans, Sasha Julian, and Candice Russell all break. Russell even begs to sing a little bit more, only to attempt to go all Mariah Carey without a spec of success.

“I can’t even sleep at night. I want this so much.” –Phil Phillips

And then it’s time for one of my favorites, Phil Phillips. The down-home boy has never been on a plane, but he makes it work so he can bring his growly, engaging voice (and adorable mug) to Hollywood. The song just rolls off his tongue, and he’s so cute, he may not be doomed to becoming an early castoff (one can only hope!). Next, is Reed Grimm – and it makes sense that he would be paired with Phil. He’s the guy who’s been singing since he was a kid and he likes to turn kid songs into jazzy tunes; this time he gave the scat treatment to “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.” He’s got a velvety voice and while I’m not a fan of his flashy, cocky penchant for jazzing up kids’ songs, I can’t really deny his incredible talent. Along for the ride with these two incredible talents is the kid who dropped out high school to give Idol another shot, Travis Orlando. They refresh his sob story, but his voice is just so average. And the judges seem to understand that; they send Travis home and keep Phil and Reed onboard. And if you learn anything from Travis, let it be: THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DROP OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL, KIDS.

Then we get an unfeeling, all too rushed montage of fallen contestants without even hearing what their auditions sounded like. Notable shockers were Ramiro Garcia, the man who grew up without the ability to hear, and Wolf Hamlin, the golf course mechanic from San Diego. Both of those guys were episode-ender fantastic and yet, they’re gone without so much as a shoulder shrug. Even Travis Orlando got to sing on national television; what gives, Idol? Jenny “My boyfriend says I can kiss Steven Tyler” Schick also gets sent home, but I think we’ll survive.

“My expectations of this week are that I will stay here.” –Jane Carey

Adam Brock is missing his baby girl, but he’s in Hollywood for good reason. He sings “Walking in Memphis” like a professional blues singer and I demand to know where that voice is coming from. It’s nuts. This also the point the episode at which Jennifer’s inability to stop giving feedback (because it’s only like, THE RULES, Jennifer) really starts to miff me. Next, Jim Carey offspring Jane Carey is finally up, and we find out how long we can look forward to Idol exploiting her famous father. She sings “Looking Out My Back Door” and does alright, but drops every note at the end of her phrases. It’s obvious she’s not making the cut when Jennifer and Steven try their darndest to make their faces blend into the background of the theater as she searches their expressions for some semblance of an answer. Adam is in, Jane is out. Jane connects it back to her dad, who says he failed at many auditions and he’s doing alright. Yeah, we’d say so.

This gracious, but tearful exit is followed by a series of beggers. Note to Idol contestants: when you get sent home at Hollywood week, just go home. You got a free vacation and if you were good enough to be a professional performer, you wouldn’t have to beg.

“Hollywood, are you ready for me?” –David Leathers, Jr.

And now for some more good news. Shannon Magrane, the daughter of a famous pitcher (the one who was appalled when Steven said she was beautiful because she’s only 16), sings “Falling” by Alicia Keys. As she sings, Jennifer sings along so that’s probably a pretty good sign – plus, she’s one of very few people who haven’t screwed this song up. Then, little ladies’ man David Leathers, Jr. sings “Because You Love Me” and as obnoxious as his little playboy routine can be, he’s so good I can’t be mad. He’s like a tiny, soulful Michael Jackson protégé. Finally, we see the girl whose boyfriend had a stroke, and he’s there being heart-breakingly supportive. And while I said after her first audition that she only made it because of her story, her performance makes it obvious that she belongs there. Suddenly, she’s so much better. All three get good news, and Angie Zeiderman (Broadway Baby/Lady Gaga wannabe from Aspen) and NBA cheerleader Brittany Kerr do as well.

But the next set wasn’t as easy to watch for me. We’ve got the fantastic mobile DJ, Erica Van Pelt; and while she still over-performs (because she’s a wedding singer) that voice cannot be denied. She rocks. But, then there’s Creighton Fraker, who I cannot stand. The judges always pick someone with a painful tonality like this kid. Sure he can hit notes, but he’s just unpleasant. Third, we meet another ladies’ man, Aaron Marcellus and he’s solid. He’s got great high notes, and sweet lows. They’re all good to go, even though if I could stop watching until Creighton is gone, I would.

Lastly, we find Lauren Mink, girl who runs a program for people with disabilities; Jeremy Rosado, a front desk clerk and an infectious diseases office and serious germophobe; and Symone Black, an adorable singer we met in San Diego. While Lauren changes key in the middle of “Alone” by Heart, it can’t compare to Symone’s flub. (Jeremy was great; no complaints there.) She sings “Sitting on the Dock of Bay” and when they ask her why she chose the song, she says she wanted to reach an older audience and then promptly falls off the stage. They call in medical assistance, but we won’t find out if she’s okay – or if she and the other two made it – until tomorrow night! Thanks Idol. These are the kind of reality shenanigans that drive us nuts, but hey, at least it’s Hollywood week, right?

Were you surprised to see anyone get sent home? Who do you think stayed unfairly? Let me know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler